The Guide to 1st Grade

Review general curricula for first grade, what to expect for each subject, and activities that can be done at home to support learning in the classroom.



The Guide to 1st Grade

In many ways, 1st grade is a year of important transitions — children leave behind much of the play of preschool and kindergarten and dive into developing deeper academic skills.  First graders progress from having beginner reading and writing skills to becoming beginning readers and writers, as they not only read and write more often, but with greater comprehension and ability, too.  

First grade is a crucial year for building reading skills. In 1st grade, students begin to define themselves with respect to what kind of readers they are. More specifically, research has shown that the most effective and successful 1st grade classrooms are those which are very positive places, encourage reading and writing, and convey the message “You can be a reader” to students. While this is already being done in the classroom, it can certainly be done at home too.

In 1st grade, there is also a change in the classroom structure from that of preschool and kindergarten. The 1st grade classroom is usually organized more like a traditional elementary school classroom, with tables and desks at which students spend more of their time. However, in most classrooms there is still a meeting area for lessons and class discussions, as well as areas or centers dedicated to different subjects of learning.  For instance, there may be an area with all of the math tools and supplies and a class library dedicated to reading. Technology also becomes a more important part of the 1st grade classroom as students learn about and use it more.

The transition to more extensive learning, with less play time and more “sitting time,” is a very significant one. Keep in mind that your child will need to adjust to this new learning environment. He may get tired at the end of the day or have trouble focusing as the day progresses. It is important to check with your child’s teacher on your child’s progress and work together to develop strategies if your child is having trouble adjusting, especially at the beginning of the year. At home, give your child time to rest after school or allow him to play and exert his energy in the morning before school. Most importantly, give your child time to adjust. Like any person dealing with change, taking the time to get used to a new environment is crucial. The same applies to skill development. Not all 1st graders become readers and writers overnight; different children learn at different paces, especially in 1st grade when there are many changes and new skills to acquire. Again, consult with your child’s teacher on your child’s progress and inquire whether there is extra work or supplemental help that could be beneficial. 

Reading: 1st Grade

Building reading skills and doing reading practice are essential parts of a 1st grader’s learning. Even when students are not specifically learning “reading,” they are constantly reading as they learn other subjects. This practice as well as specific reading lessons are crucial to making 1st graders strong readers. In addition, 1st graders develop their reading comprehension skills and talk more about and gain a deeper understanding of what they read. 

In order to build reading skills, your 1st grader:

  • Recognizes the features of a sentence (for example: first words, capitalization, and ending punctuation).
  • Recognizes the spelling and sound of two letters that represent one sound, such as th, ch, wh (these are also known as digraphs).
  • Learns to read regularly spelled one-syllable words.
  • Understands how an “e” at the end of a word changes a vowel within the word.
  • Breaks up longer words into syllables in order to read them.
  • Reads grade-level words that have “irregular” spellings.
  • Knows the difference between and reads fiction and non-fiction texts with purpose and an understanding of the plot and important ideas and characters.
  • Talks about and answers questions about the text he reads.
  • Reads texts aloud at an appropriate speed and with expression.
  • Compares different characters, events, or texts.
  • Understands the purpose of and uses common features in a book, such as headings, tables of contents, and glossaries.
  • Begins to read (grade appropriate) poetry and identifies words and phrases that relate to emotions and the senses.

Reading Activities

  • Play Time: Read aloud a favorite story or poem as though it is a play or using different voices for the character and the narrator to help your child practice her pacing and expression. Your child can also read a book to you!
  • Read and Draw: Ask your child to draw a picture of her favorite scene, character, or page from a book. She can then write a description of what she drew and why she chose to draw it.
  • Become Poets: Find small and simple poems. Read them together and talk about the feelings they convey. Try making up your own poems together about objects, people you know, or anything you like!
  • Word Games: Use magnetic letters, letter tiles, or cards from games to create both real and silly words. Practice building longer words by putting together shorter words and sounds.
  • Create Your Own Dictionary: As your child learns to read new words and understand the meaning of those words, keep track of them in your own dictionary. Your child can write them down, draw a picture to illustrate the word or its definition, or write a sentence with the word. 

Writing: 1st Grade

Once your child has mastered writing letters and begins to improve her spelling skills, she can take the next step in 1st grade and write longer pieces in a variety of genres. In other words, in 1st grade your child progresses from knowing how to write words to becoming a “writer.” This is not to say that your 1st grader should be a perfect speller; instead she can practice her spelling skills as she further develops her writing skills. 1st grade is also the time when students begin to use technology, specifically for their writing and research. Help support this by using technology at home with your child, in an appropriate and supervised manner.

Similar to reading, writing occurs throughout the day as students learn a variety of subjects in addition to the specific writing lessons or times in class. For example, students may write about a math problem, explaining how they solved it, or write about a topic they learned in science or social studies. All of this work makes them better writers overall.

In order to build writing skills, your 1st grader:

  • Writes a variety of texts including, opinion pieces, narratives, and explanatory/informational pieces
  • Writes with structure, including an introductory sentence, supporting or accurate details, and some sense of closure
  • Begins to use digital tools, including computers, to practice and “publish” writing
  • Gathers information as a class, with the aid of a teacher, to answer a question or create a shared research or writing project

Writing Activities

  • Write Your Own Stories: After you experience something together or your child has an important moment or event, he can write a about it and illustrate it as though it is a story and share it with your family and friends.
  • Answer a Question: When your child asks a question, research the answer together using books or computers (under your supervision). Then create an informative poster or collage which tells the question, the answer, and uses both texts and illustrations to show what you learned.
  • Make a Family Magazine or Book: Your child can illustrate a book using drawings and text to describe different family members or friends. Each person can have their own page.
  • Write Cards and Letters for Special Events: On birthdays and holidays, your child can send people cards or letters he writes.  

Math: 1st Grade

First graders continue to develop their addition and subtraction skills, gaining a deeper understanding of the concepts as they practice and gain mastery of these skills. In many classes, math tools and manipulatives such as blocks, tiles, and different shapes are used to help students practice math using concrete, visible objects. This helps students truly understand the concepts underlying the math they learn. In addition, students in 1st grade may begin to write about the math they do, answering questions about how they solve problems and understand things.

In order to build math skills, your 1st grader:

  • Adds and subtracts numbers 1-20, solves word problems by using objects, drawings, and traditional equations (with the plus and minus signs).
  • Adds 3 numbers that add to a number up to 20.
  • Solves addition and subtraction problems by adding up or subtracting smaller numbers, for example: 10+4 = 10+2+2 and 15-6 = 15-2-2-2.
  • Learns the relationship between addition and subtraction, for example: 2+3=5 and 5-3=2.
  • Counts out and groups objects in order to solve single digit addition and subtraction problems.
  • Counts and writes the numbers 1 to 120, starting from any number less than 120.
  • Understands and creates numbers using 10 as a base, for example: 12 = 1 ten and 2 1’s.
  • Compares two 2 digit numbers using the <, >, and = signs.
  • Adds up to100 using objects and the concept of 10’s.
  • Subtracts or adds 10 to a 2 digit number in her mind, without counting, and subtracts by 10 from numbers 1-90, using concrete objects or tools.
  • Orders three objects by length.
  • Begins to tell and write time using both digital and analog clocks.
  • Understands data; specifically, the total number of data points, how many are in each category, and how many more or less there are in a category.
  • Understands the definition of and difference between shapes and creates shapes using this knowledge.
  • Creates 2 and 3 dimensional shapes.
  • Breaks up circles and rectangles into two and four equal parts, and understands that the parts are halves, fourths, and quarters, and that smaller parts make up larger ones.

Math Activities

  • Add It Up and Shop: When you are in the store together, ask your child to add together different things, for example: how many fruits you bought, how many boxes of something, or how many different types of fruit and vegetables.
  • Greater or Less Than?: Make three cards, one with the < sign, one with > sign, and one with an = sign. Then play a game in which you put down two numbers (also on papers). Ask your child to put the correct sign between the numbers and do this is as fast as possible, seeing how many rounds he can get correct in a certain amount of time. Track how many your child got right and ask him to beat his record another time in the future.
  • Build Things: Use blocks or other building toys to construct houses, towers, vehicles etc. As you build, count pieces by tens, add and subtract pieces, and pay attention to the different shapes you use.
  • Take a Poll: Ask family members a question and create a graph of the answers using numbers and pictures. Ask your child questions about the different “data” you collected.
  • Order Up: Compare the sizes of different objects. Ask your child which object is larger, smaller and smallest. Ask your child to order some of his toys in size order. Time him to see how fast he can do this!
  • Set the Table: Setting the table for meals can include lots of math as you and your child add the total numbers of utensils, plates, chairs, etc. 

Science: 1st Grade

Your first grader spends her time as a scientist, exploring, experimenting and observing. In first grade, students are taught to observe, ask questions, and record their observations and answers. Science lessons can be taught once to a few times a week, and science lessons often overlap with math and literacy as teachers use tools such as books, graphs, and measurement to help students learn. Since specific science topics taught in a 1st grade class vary across schools, find out which specific science topics your child will be learning about and find ways to explore these topics at home.

In order to build science skills, your 1st grader:

  • Explores and experiments with the world around her and with objects provided by the teacher.
  • Learns new facts about a variety of topics including: the human body, ocean and sea life, animals, measurement, electricity and magnetism, sound, and matter (the difference between solids, gases and liquids).
  • Makes observations and records what she sees and learns using graphs, pictures, and words.
  • Uses her 5 senses to observe and learn about objects. 

Science Activities: 1st Grade

  • Experiment with Water: Put different objects in water and see what floats and sinks. Heat water up (under your supervision) and see what happens when water boils. Put cups of water in the freezer and refrigerator and compare what happens. Ask your child what he thinks will happen before you do each of these things and talk about what he learns.  Make ice cubes out of water and then watch them melt, focusing on how different matter can change from one state/phase to another.
  • Observe Your World: Observe things around you—your pet, a rainstorm, a bug outside, or anything else in nature. Together, write down and draw pictures of what you notice. Use this to further your child’s interest. Ask her what else she wants to learn about a topic, then read books or look up facts online about that topic. Try to find answers to your child’s questions.
  • Use Your Senses: Help your child use his senses. Blindfold your child and have him taste, touch, and smell different objects. Ask him to guess what the object is or talk about how it tastes, feels, and smells. 

Social Studies: 1st Grade

The specific social studies topics studied in 1st grade classrooms typically vary according to state standards. Different states may focus on their own history, geography, and communities, as well as slightly vary the focus of their learning. However, in most 1st grade classrooms, students begin to explore their communities and the world around them more deeply, enhancing their research skills, general knowledge of the world around them, and ability to compare and contrast different groups. This is done in a variety of ways through group projects, group research, read-alouds, class trips, and exploratory activities. In addition, 1st graders continue to have class meetings where they learn about the calendar and discuss class events. In The U.S., American holidays are studied, as well.

In order to build social studies skills, your 1st grader:

  • Learns and talks about his own family, different types of families in the present and in history, and his community.
  • Uses and studies maps to locate his own community as well as others.
  • Develops communication and conversation skills.
  • Creates both group and individual work to represent what he has learned, using writing, illustrations, and graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams and T-charts.
  • Begins to explore the role of technology and media.
  • Gains an understanding of the importance of rules, citizenship, and democracy in the classroom and in his community.
  • Learns about American holidays and important events and days.

 Social Studies Activities

  • Make the Rules Together: Talk about the rules in your house and write them down together. Talk about why you have the rules and ask your child if she would like to change, add, or make new rules.
  • Make a Community Collage: Ask relatives or friends who live in different places to send you newspapers, magazines, or pictures of their communities. Talk with your child about the similarities and differences with your own community and make a poster of the pictures that compares the two and shows what’s different and what's the same. Use a chart such as a T-chart or Venn diagram.
  • Find a Pen-Pal: If you know of another child who lives somewhere else, coordinate with a parent to set your children up as pen-pals, using technology, when possible. Your child can use email, letters, pictures, and video calling to communicate—all under your supervision. Have the children send pictures of their communities to each other.
  • Make a Map of People You Know: Take either an international or national map and mark the places where other family members or friends live. Mark the places with a picture of the person or write their names. Talk about where each person lives and the distance between the different places. 

1st Grade Book List

Here are some book picks for your 1st grader:

  • Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells: This book introduces the concept of money and enables kids to play with their own “bunny money” in an amusing way as they read about the familiar characters Max and Ruby.
  • The Frog and Toad Series by Arnold Lobel: This well-known series is often used to help kids read longer-form books, talk about character and plot, and enjoy humorous stories about an unlikely friendship between two very different animals.
  • Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes: This book by favorite author Kevin Henkes is commonly used in school to help students understand differences and how to interact with their friends. It can help sparking conversations about topics such as teasing and feeling different.
  • Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young: This is a good example of a fairy tale from another culture and can be a good way to compare different versions of the same story, as well as learn about different cultures.
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater: This is an amusing and enjoyable book often used for read-alouds.  It is a great book to read to your child.


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